Monday, 05 September 2005 10:24
Team Lotus was one of Formula 1's most successful teams.
1950s - A New Presence
The following year the Lotus 12 appeared. Driving one in 1958 Allison won the F2 class in the International Trophy at Silverstone beating Stuart Lewis-Evans's Cooper. The remarkable Coventry Climax powered Type 14, the Lotus Cars production version of which was the original Lotus Elite, won six class victories, plus the "Index of Performance" several times at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race.
As the Coventry Climax engines were enlarged in 1958 to 2.2-liters Chapman decided to enter Grand Prix racing, running a pair of Lotus 12s at Monaco in 1958 for Graham Hill and Cliff Allison. These were replaced later that year by Lotus 16s.
In 1959 - by which time the Coventry Climax engines had been stretched to 2.5-liters - Chapman continued with a front-engined F1 cars but achieved little, and so in 1960 Chapman switched to the milestone mid-engined Lotus 18. By then the company's success had caused it to expand to such an extent that it had to move to new premises at Cheshunt.
1960s and 70s - Dominant Force
There were successes in Formula 2 and Formula Junior. The road car business was doing well with the Lotus Seven and the Lotus Elite and this was followed by the Lotus Elan in 1962, during which year the entire Lotus enterprise moved to their current facilities at Hethel Norfolk. More racing success followed with the 26R, racing version of the Elan, and in 1963 with the Lotus Cortina, which Jack Sears drove to the British Touring Car Championship title, a feat repeated by Jim Clark in 1964.
The company now permanently situated at Ketteringham Hall continued to do well financially as the demand for sports cars in the 1960s, before the US Federal Government introduced the sweeping regulations of the '70's, seemed to be endless.
Chapman was also successful at Indianapolis with the Lotus 29 almost winning the 500 at its first attempt in 1963 with Clark at the wheel. The race marked the beginning of the end for the old front-engined Indianapolis roadsters. Clark was leading when he retired from the 1964 event with suspension failure, but in 1965 he won the biggest prize in US racing driving his Lotus 38; The first ever mid-engined car to win the Indianapolis 500.
Many of Chapman's successes came from innovation. The Lotus 25 was the first monocoque chassis in F1, the 49 was the first car of note to use the engine as a stressed member, the Lotus 56 Indycar was powered by a gas turbine engine and was fitted with four wheel drive, the Lotus 63 was the first F1 car to use four wheel drive, and the 72 broke new ground in aerodynamics. Chapman was also an innovator as a team boss, and it was Team Lotus which first introduced major commercial sponsorship to F1 at Monaco in 1968 appearing in the Red, Gold and White colors of Imperial Tobacco's Gold Leaf brand.
Team Lotus was first to achieve 50 Grand Prix victories. (Ferrari was the second team to do so, having won their first Formula 1 race in 1951, seven years before the first ever Lotus F1 car.)
In the mid-1970s Lotus engineers began to investigate aerodynamic ground effects. The Lotus 78, and then the Lotus 79 of 1978 were extraordinarily successful with Mario Andretti winning the F1 World Championship. Lotus attempted to take ground effects further with the Lotus 88 Lotus was the first team to introduce carbon fibre to F1, when it introduced its all carbon fibre Lotus 91 in 1982. Chapman was beginning work on an active suspension development program when he died of a heart attack in December 1982 at the age of only 54.
1980s - Moderate Success
1990s - The End
Former Team Lotus employees Peter Collins and Peter Wright organized a deal to take over the team from the Chapman Family and in December the new Team Lotus was launched with Mika Häkkinen and Julian Bailey being signed for the 1991 season. Bailey was soon replaced by Johnny Herbert and a deal was struck for the team to use Ford V8 engines in 1992. The team was now short on money and this affected performance, but it did well, Häkkinen scoring 11 points and the team finishing fifth in the Constructors' title. Häkkinen moved to McLaren in 1993 and after his replacement Alex Zanardi crashed heavily at the Belgian GP, Herbert was joined by Pedro Lamy. The team scored 12 points despite the tight budget and finished sixth in the '93 Constructors' Championship.
Unfortunately debts were mounting and the team was unable to develop the Lotus 107, which had been designed by Chris Murphy. The team gambled on success with Mugen Honda engines. Herbert and Lamy struggled with the old car. The Portuguese driver was seriously injured in an accident in testing at Silverstone and Zanardi returned. The hope was that the new Lotus-Mugen Honda 109 would save the day. In an effort to survive the team took on pay-driver Philippe Adams at the Belgian GP. At Monza Zanardi was back in the car, and the new 109 was ready. Herbert qualified fourth but at the first corner he was punted off by the Jordan of Eddie Irvine. The following day the team applied for an Administration Order to protect itself from creditors. Tom Walkinshaw pounced and bought Johnny Herbert's contract, moving him into Ligier and then Benetton.
In October the team was sold to David Hunt, brother of James. Mika Salo was hired to replace Herbert. In December, however, work on the design of a new car was halted and the staff laid off. In February 1995 Hunt announced an alliance with Pacific Grand Prix and the Illustrious history of Team Lotus came to an inauspicious end.
New beginning, 2010
Lotus F1 returns to Formula 1 in 2010, contracting Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen.
The Lotus 18 was designed by Colin Chapman for use by Lotus in F1 and F2. It was the first mid engined car built by Lotus, and its most successful early design after Chapman decided to switch from his early and unsuccessful front engined cars. It was introduced for the 1960 F1 and F2 seasons. The car was a piece of classic Chapman design being extremely light and simple; the body was made up of lightweight panels bolted onto a spaceframe chassis. Thus the car was rigid and strong. It was powered initially by a 2.5 litre Coventry Climax V8, then by a 1.5 litre Climax when new engine rules came into force in 1961.
The car took Lotus' first F1 victory, albeit by private entrant Rob Walker who leased the car from Chapman. Driven by Stirling Moss at the 1960 Monaco Grand Prix, the car took a dominant win. It was an early taste of things to come for onlookers. Moss also won the American Grand Prix at the end of the season, helping Lotus finish third in the constructors' championship. Moss took victory in a legendary race at Monaco the following year, beating off the more powerful and faster 'Sharknose' Ferraris, and then won at the fearsome Nurburgring in changeable weather, while Innes Ireland took a third win in the USA to help Lotus finish second in the constructors' championship that year. The car was notable for giving Jim Clark his first Grand Prix start in 1960.
The 18 was replaced by the Lotus 25 in 1962.
The Lotus 25, or Type 25, was designed by Colin Chapman for the 1962 Formula 1 season. It was a revolutionary design, the first fully stressed monocoque chassis to appear in F1. An early brainchild of Chapman's fertile mind, the monocoque made the car more rigid and structurally stronger than typical F1 cars of the period. As a result, the car was extremely low and narrow. The driver appeared to be lying down while at the wheel, giving the car the nickname 'The Bathtub.' It was powered by a 1500cc Coventry Climax V8.
The car made its debut at the Dutch Grand Prix, before it gave Jim Clark his first grand prix victory at Spa that year. He followed by taking another win in the USA which put him in contention for the title, but at the final race, a much publicised engine seizure cost him the title to Graham Hill.
Clark gained his revenge the following year, winning his first world championship in the 25, by winning 7 races, Belgium, France, Holland, Britain, Italy, South Africa and Mexico. Lotus also won its first constructors' championship. The 25 was used during the 1964 season, winning a further 3 races with Clark. At the final race in Mexico, just as in 1962 the Climax engine developed an oil leak and with literally a lap to run Clark coasted to a halt in sight of world championship victory, this time conceding to John Surtees.
Clark went on to take the car's final win at the 1965 French Grand Prix before it was replaced by the Lotus 33. The Lotus 25 won 14 races and 18 pole positions.
The Lotus 33 designed by Colin Chapman, was a Formula One car built by Team Lotus. Its development was based on the earlier Lotus 25 model, taking the monocoque chassis design to new development heights. The 33 was again powered by the 1500cc Climax engine. The 33 was almost identical to the 25, but had suspension designed around newer, wider tyres. The car more more rigid and was simpler to build than its predecessor.
Introduced for the 1965 season, Clark took the 33 to victory in its first appearance at the South African Grand Prix before taking the car to four more wins to take his second world championship.
Compared to the 25, the Climax engine had an increase in power (about 210 - 220 BHP compared to the older Climaxes in the 25, which gave about 200 BHP). However the extra power sacrificed reliability, and Clark retired from the final 3 races of 1965, fortunately after he'd wrapped up the title. The 33 was pressed into service with a bored out 2 litre Climax V8 for the early races of 1966, until the 3 litre Lotus 43 was ready.
A detailed virtual recreation of this famous Lotus model appeared around 2004 in the '1965 Mod' for the Grand Prix Legends pc-based F1 racing simulation.
The Lotus 38 was designed by Colin Chapman and Len Terry as Lotus 1965 entry for the Indianapolis 500. It was an evolution of the previous Lotus 29 Indy design, and was powered by a four-cam Ford V8 fuel injected engine giving out a round 500 bhp. The engine was mid-mounted, improving the weight distribution and giving it good handling. The suspension was specially designed with suspension arms of unequal length, better suited for the ovals. The 38 was significantly larger than F1 cars of the time, but was dwarfed by the massive American roadsters.
Jim Clark qualified on the first row, and race was a walkover for him, as he led all but 10 laps, and won by two laps from A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. It was payback for losing the race in 1963, when Clark felt that Parnelli Jones' oil spewing car should have been black flagged.
The 38 had proved that mid engined cars could make the grade at the Brickyard, and the days of the front engined roadsters were effectively over. Lotus returned with the 38 in 1966, but conceded victory to Graham Hill in a Lola.
Design elements in the 38 were eventually worked into the design of the legendary Lotus 49.
The Lotus 43 was designed for the 1966 season by Colin Chapman. The 1966 season was the first season where 3 litre engines were permitted. As a result, Chapman and Lotus made a deal for use of BRM's new H 16 engine as well as using new, wider tyres better able to put the power of the engine down on to the track.
The engine on paper was technically advanced and powerful, and Chapman had hopes that it would power his cars to another successful season. Alas, it was not to be. The first sign of trouble was when the new engine arrived and it required four men to lift it from the truck. The engine proved to be overweight, unreliable and was unable to produce the promised power. Jim Clark didn't score any points until mid season. Clark was able to turn his fortunes around and won the American GP at Watkins Glen at the end of the season, thereby winning the H 16's only race. In 1967 the 43 made its final start in the South African GP at the Kyalami circuit, where Clark again retired the car. The 43 chassis was an excellent design let down by a poor powerplant, and Chapman was left to rue his choice as he had been offered Repco engines for 1966, which went on to take the world championship that year for Brabham.
Design elements of the 43 were used in the design of the far more successful Lotus 49 which replaced the 43 in 1967.
The Lotus 49 was designed by Colin Chapman and Maurice Phillipe for the 1967 F1 season. After a difficult first year for Lotus in the 3 litre formula, Chapman went back to the drawing board and came up with a design that was both back to basics, and a leap ahead. Taking inspiration from earlier designs, particularly the Lotus 43 and Lotus 38 Indycar, the 49 was the first F1 car to be powered by the now-famous Ford Cosworth DFV engine after Chapman convinced Ford to build an F1 powerplant. In testing, Graham Hill found the 49 easy to drive and responsive, but the power of the Ford difficult to handle at first. The V8 would give sudden bursts of power that Hill had reservations about. However, Jim Clark won its debut race at Zandvoort with ease and took another 3 wins during the season, but early unreliability with the DFV ended his championship hopes. However it was felt that 1968 would be a better year after Ford perfected the design, but it was obvious the DFV and the design of the Lotus 49 was the way forwards.
Clark won the first race of the season, but was tragically killed in an F2 race at Hockenheim. Graham Hill took over as team leader and won his second World Championship title. The 49 also took Jochen Rindt to his first victory in 1969, before he drove the type to its last win in the 1970 Monaco Grand Prix.
The 49 was a revolution in Formula 1 because of its then-unique configuration where the specially-designed engine became a structural part of the chassis, bolted to the monocoque at one end and the suspension and gearbox at the other. Since then virtually all Formula 1 cars have been built this way, right up to the present day. The 49 was a testbed for several new pieces of racecar technology and pesentation. Lotus was the first team to use aerofoil wings, which appeared partway through 1968, as did commercial sponsorship. Typically, Lotus was painted in British Racing Green but from the Monaco race, the 49 was painted red, white and gold, the colours of Gold Leaf cigarettes.
The 49 was intended to be replaced by the Lotus 63 midway through 1969, but when that car proved to be a faliure, the 49 was pressed into service until a suitable car could be built. The 49 took 12 wins, contributed to 2 driver and constructors' world championships, before it was replaced by the Lotus 72 in 1970.
In 1998, a detailed virtual recreation of this famous Lotus type appeared as one of the leading cars in the Grand Prix Legends pc-based F1 simulation of 1967.
The Lotus 56 was designed by Maurice Phillipe as Lotus 1968 entry in the Indianapolis 500, replacing the successful Lotus 38. Colin Chapman's team had again produced an innovative design. The car was shaped like a wedge on wheels, in the same vein as the later Lotus 72, which was also designed by Phillipe and Chapman. The engine of the 56 was also noteworthy, as it was powered by a Pratt & Whitney gas turbine engine which produced over 500 bhp. To get the best out of the power produced, the 56 was fitted with four wheel drive, something also used on the Lotus 63 without success.
The Lotus 63 was an experimental F1 design, designed by Colin Chapman and Maurice Phillipe for the 1969 season. Chapman's reasoning behind the car was that the 3 litre engines introduced in 1966 would be better served by building a car that could take full advantage of its power while retaining the Lotus 49's simplicity.
The chassis was designed around a four wheel drive system, a revolution at the time, as four wheel drive had only been used on military vehicles and had not even been used on ordinary road cars at that time. The car was an evolution of the 49, but featured wedge shaped rear bodywork and integrated wings, which would be used to great effect in the Lotus 72.
John Miles, Lotus' third driver was entrusted the task of developing the car, while Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt used the 49 in the early races of 1969. The car proved extremely difficult to drive and set up, and the four wheel drive system was especially problematic. After a single test run, Hill flatly refused to drive the car again stating it was a 'deathtrap,' as did Rindt, who agreed with Hill after taking the car to its best result, 2nd in the Oulton Park Gold Cup. This infuriated Chapman as he saw the 63 as another quantum leap ahead of its rivals, just as its predecessors had been.
The car was entered at the 1969 British Grand Prix as a test run. Whilst Rindt finished second to Jackie Stewart in the older 49, Miles could only bring the 63 home in 10th place, confirming the car's uncompetitiveness. After several other fruitless outings, the 63 and its four wheel drive technology was abandoned, but parts of the chassis design were worked into the brilliant Lotus 72, which debuted in 1970.
Like the Lotus 88, the car proved to be a huge white elephant for Lotus, but it paved the way for better models to follow.
The Lotus 72 was a Formula 1 car designed by Colin Chapman and Maurice Phillipe of Lotus for the 1970 season. It was yet another innovative design by Chapman featuring inboard brakes, side mounted radiators in sidepods, as opposed to the nose mounted radiators which had been commonplace since the 1950's and an overhead air intake. The overall shape of the car was innovative too, resembling a wedge on wheels which was inspired by the earlier Lotus 56 gas turbine car, and the layout taken from the Lotus 63 four wheel drive project testbed. The shape made for better air penetration and higher speeds. In a back-to-back test with the Lotus 49, the 72 was 12mph faster with the same Ford engine.
The car was introduced partway into the 1970 season, driven by Jochen Rindt and John Miles. Rindt made the car instantly successful, winning the Dutch, French, British and German Grands Prix in quick succession, before Rindt was tragically killed in a qualifying crash at Monza. His replacement, Emerson Fittipaldi won the USA race, helping Rindt become F1's only posthumous World Champion. Rindt and Fittipaldi's combined points for the season helped Lotus to its fourth constructors' championship.
The car was developed during 1971 by BRM incumbent Tony Rudd, and Fittipaldi became the youngest world champion in F1's history in 1972 winning 5 races in the 72, whilst Lotus again won the constructors' championship. The car now sported a striking paintscheme of black and gold, as Lotus was now sponsored by John Player Special cigarettes.
The 1973 season saw new rules introduced to increase car safety. This included mandatory deformable structure to be built into the sides of the cars, causing the 72 to be further updated with integrated sidepods and new wing mounts. Fittipaldi was joined for 1973 by the brilliant Swede Ronnie Peterson. Peterson fell in love with the 72; a perfect marriage of car and driver. In his first season with Lotus, Peterson won 4 races, while Fittipaldi won 3, but their internal fight helped Jackie Stewart snatch the drivers' championship, while Lotus kept the constructor's championship. Fittipaldi left for McLaren in 1974, ironically to drive a car closely based on the 72, the McLaren M23. This left Peterson as team leader, while Jacky Ickx joined the team to partner him. Peterson won another 3 races in the now aging 72 in 1974, but for 1975 without a replacement chassis the 72 was pressed into service. By now it was obvious that the car, even with further modifications was no match for the new Ferrari 312T which took the title or even the latest Brabham BT44 and Lotus finished 6th in the constructors' championship.
After 20 wins, 2 drivers' and 3 constructors' championships, the 72 was retired for the 1976 season.
The Lotus 78 'wing car' designed by Peter Wright, Colin Chapman, Martin Ogilvie and Tony Rudd, was the car that started the ground effect revolution in Formula 1. In early 1976, Peter Wright of Lotus was experimenting with F1 car body shapes using a rolling road, when he began to get remarkable results in one of the models. Closer inspection found that as the rolling road's speed increased, the shaped underbody was being drawn closer to the surface of the road. Wright experimented with pieces of cardboard attached to the side of the model car body, and the level of perceived downforce produced was phenomenal. The results were presented to Colin Chapman, who gave Wright, aerodynamicist Martin Ogilvie and designer Tony Rudd free reign to come up with an F1 chassis design. The result was the Lotus 78 which appeared in July of 1976. Mario Andretti wanted to introduce the car early, possibly at the Dutch Grand Prix that year but was overruled by Chapman, as he didn't want other teams discovering what Lotus had achieved. The 78 was introduced at the first race of 1977. It was also used several times in the 1978 season.
Its sidepods, bulky constructions between front and rear wheels containing the radiators, were shaped as inverted aerofoils and sealed with flexible "skirts" to the ground. Wright and Chapman had discovered that by carefully shaping the underside of the sidepods they could accelerate the air passing under the car, thereby reducing the air pressure under the car relative to that over it and pushing the tyres down harder onto the track. The greater force downwards on the tyres gave more grip and thus higher cornering speeds. Ground effect had the great advantage of being a low drag solution, unlike conventional wings, meaning that the increased cornering ability was not compromised by a decrease in straight line speed. The sliding "skirts" sealed the gap between the sides of the cars and the ground and prevented excessive air being sucked into the low pressure area under the car and dissipating the ground effect. Andretti described driving the 78 as if it was 'painted to the road.'
Unfortunately, the low pressure area under the car was too far forward, requiring a very large rear wing resulting in a lot of drag at high speeds. To compensate, Ford provided development versions of the DFV, increasing the car's speed but also sacrificing reliability. Andretti had no less than 5 engine faliures in 1977, costing him the world championship to Niki Lauda, even though he had won 4 races to Lauda's 3. But it was obvious that the 78 was something special, and other teams started scrambling to design their own version for 1978. The problem they had was that they didn't know exactly what was so special about the car, as Chapman and other members of Lotus came up with any number of excuses to hide the real reason. That as well as the skirts, which hid any view of the underside of the car.
The 78 was good enough to still be a winner in early 1978 before it was replaced by the Lotus 79, which was as far ahead of the 78 as the 78 had admittedly been ahead of the rest of the field in 1977.
Drivers: Mario Andretti, Gunnar Nilsson, Ronnie Peterson
The Lotus 79 was a Formula 1 car designed in late 1977 by Colin Chapman, Martin Ogilvie, Tony Rudd and Peter Wright of Lotus. It was the first F1 car to take full advantage of ground effects aerodynamics, pioneered in its immediate predecessor, the Lotus 78. The undercar pressure problems in the 78 were resolved with the 79, with further design work on the venturi tunnels under the car. This allowed a smaller rear wing to be designed, causing less drag. The car was powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV and constructed of sheet aluminium honeycomb, specially strengthened for the pressures exerted on the car by the ground effects. The fuel tank was one single cell behind the driver, as opposed to separate fuel tanks as on the 78. This had the advantage of increasing fire protection and moving the centre of gravity to the middle of the car, helping cornering and braking. The 79 was also the first F1 car to be designed using wind tunnel and computer design aids. In fact it was the first F1 car to use computers to analyse it in the pits on race weekends.
The car was tested in secret throughout late 1977 by Ronnie Peterson. The car proved to be very fast, but the chassis fatigued extremely quickly due to the extreme g-forces imposed on it. The 79 produced about 30% more downforce than the 78, something not forseen by Ogilvie and Rudd, who went back to the drawing board. The chassis was strengthened and the car was found to be even faster than before. Nicknamed 'Black Beauty' by the press and F1 fans alike, for its graceful design and sleek profile and its black and gold livery through sponsorship by John Player Special cigarettes, the Lotus 79 was instantly competitive on its debut, the Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. It took pole at the hands of Mario Andretti by more than a second, and won the race comfortably. Andretti said after driving the 79 for the first time that the Lotus 78 was like driving a London bus. He did however have reservations over the car's brakes, which faded noticably over a race distance.
The 79 proved to be almost unbeatable during 1978 and provided an unprecedented level of domination. The car took 6 more victories during the season, giving the drivers' championship to Andretti, and the constructors' championship to Lotus. Its only serious rivals during the season were the Ferrari 312T3 and the Brabham BT46B 'fancar'. The Brabham challenge came to nothing when the fan car concept was banned after it won its only race, while the Ferraris only won when the Lotus failed to finish. So superior was the Lotus, that most races became a scrap for minor placings. Andretti was comfortably world champion in 1978, and Peterson finished second, although posthumously as he was tragically killed in a startline crash at Monza, ironically, the race Andretti wrapped up the championship at.
In 1979, the 79 was to be replaced by the Lotus 80, intended to be the next step in the evolution of ground effects. But the 80 proved to be a total failure and Lotus was forced to go back to the 79, driven by Andretti and Carlos Reutemann. Unfortunately the next generation in ground effects cars led by the Williams FW07 and the Ferrari 312T4 outclassed the 79 and although the car was updated, it was retired at the end of the 1979 season, without winning any further races.
In its lifetime, the 79 took 7 wins, 10 pole positions, 121 points and won the last drivers' and constructors' world championships for Lotus.
The Lotus 88 was an innovative ground effect F1 car designed by Colin Chapman, Peter Wright, Tony Rudd and Martin Ogilvie of Lotus as a response to technical regulations introduced in 1981 by the FIA to curb the ground effects cars technical excellence.
By 1981 the ground effects cars were so efficient and so fast that the drivers were suffering from the tremendous g-forces involved in cornering and braking. The FIA banned the moveable skirts fitted to the bottom of the cars' sidepods that were vital for achieving consistent ground effect and regulated a mandatory ground clearance of 6cm, in the interests of driver safety. The Brabham team were the first to circumvent the rules using hydraulic suspension systems which lowered the Brabham BT49 onto the track once the car had left the pits. This had the side effect of rendering the car wthout any sort of suspension, causing the driver to be buffeted even more than before. However, the performance gains were such that other teams were soon following suit, but Chapman had other ideas.
The 88 used an ingenious system of having a twin chassis, one inside the other. The inner chassis would hold the cockpit and would be independently sprung from the outer one, which was designed to take the pressures of the ground effects. The outer chassis did not have discernable wings, and was in effect one huge ground effect system, beginning just behind the nose of the car and extending all the way inside the rear wheels, thereby producing massive amounts of downforce. The car was powered by the Ford Cosworth DFV engine. Lotus drivers Nigel Mansell and Elio De Angelis reported the car was pleasing to drive and responsive.
Other teams were outraged at this exploitation of the rules and protests were lodged with the FIA, who consequently banned the 88 from competing. Chapman was adamant the car was legal and challenged the other teams and the FIA at every turn, but the decision stood. Chapman was forced to update two of his Lotus 87 chassis as replacements for his thwarted brainchild. The Lotus 88 therefore remains a curiosity from a bygone age of F1.
The Lotus 107 racecar brought in a final, frustratingly limited and short-lived period of competitiveness for the legendary Team Lotus in Formula 1. A fresh design by Chris Murphy, it had smooth sweeping lines a world away from the long developed and antique looking 102D. Lotus also harked back to previous glories with a supply of Ford Cosworth HB V8 engines, of a similar - if older - specification to those being used by Benetton. The 107 was the first Lotus to be fitted with a semi automatic gearbox.
With a top notch driving squad of Johnny Herbert and a future double F1 World Champion Mika Häkkinen, the Lotus' were able to bring in some good results - at several races the twin 'Loti' (as BBC commentator James Hunt dubbed them) were able to run in formation on the tail of the leading pack, at least in the early parts of the races. Reliability was not fantastic, but a fair measure of basic speed was obviously there. For a while in 1992 it seemed as if Team Lotus might be able to turn things around and claw their way back to success.
The car was developed over succeeding seasons into B and C variants, the latter with Mugen-Honda power in place of the Cosworth. As was obligatory at the time, the team employed the active suspension technology that they had introduced to F1 back in 1987 on later variants, but the budget wasn't there to make it really work, and besides, it was now far from being a unique capability. Alex Zanardi believes (see his autobiography 'My Story') that the focus on this system was to the detriment of other aspects of the car.
Zanardi (later a two-time Champ Car champion) was an example of the high level of driving talent the team generally continued to employ. Sadly the team's financial difficulties dragged it under at the end of 1994. The Lotus 109, the last Formula 1 Lotus, which ran in the latter part of 1994, was a further derivative of this design.
Drivers: Johnny Herbert, Mika Häkkinen, Alessandro Zanardi, Mika Salo, Pedro Lamy
The Lotus 97T was a development of the Lotus 95T of 1984. It was designed for the 1985 Formula 1 season by Gerard Doucarouge and powered by a 1500cc Renault turbocharged engine. Sponsorship came from John Player Special and French oil company Elf. The 97T was a simple design but was robust and powerful. It did feature another innovative piece of Lotus design: an early form of bargeboards.
Lotus' major coup for 1985 was signing rising star Ayrton Senna from the Toleman team to partner Elio De Angelis. De Angelis had finished third in the previous season's drivers' championship and had had many promising results with the 95T. The 97T was a natural development, but taking into account new sporting regulation changes over the rear wings of the cars.
The 97T was very competitive during the season, taking 8 poles, 7 with Senna and 1 with De Angelis and 3 wins. Senna's first was a brilliant performance in Portugal where he won by over a minute in monsoon conditions. His second came at Spa, held in wet/dry conditions. De Angelis added a third win at Imola after Prost was disqualified.
Th 97T was fast but was unreliable. Senna in particular has a run of bad luck mid season, many times while leading which cost him a possible chance at the world championship. Eventually, Lotus finished third in the constructors championship. The 97T was updated for 1986 and at the hands of Senna won another two races in Spain and Detroit, and another 8 pole positions. Lotus again finished third in the constructors' championship, but Senna was able to mount a consistent challenge for the drivers' title, mostly down to improved reliability.
The car was a brief return to the glory days of the '60s and '70s for Lotus. It was replaced by the Lotus Honda 99T for 1987.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 11 February 2010 20:21|